As I entered the Executive Search industry in 1984, all work was manual, and for many, the database was an excel spreadsheet. Nowadays, it feels like living in a recruiters Disneyland, where you can go shop for any “recruiting tool” you can wish for. So, has this changed how Executive Search professionals work? The answer is a big YES, but there are also things that have NOT changed that much. Let´s start with some YES examples.
WHAT HAS CHANGED?
The Nowadays Recruiting Toolbox
All Executive Search Firms have benefitted from the new technology. The new tools in their working toolbox have enabled developing and improving the search process for the better, from A-to Z. The steps in the search process are the same, but every piece of work done during every step has benefitted. Talent sourcing and screening is more efficient. Knowledge Management, processing and analysing information is more efficient. We can faster produce better reports and business intelligence. By increasing all over efficiency, we can reduce time to hire, to mention some examples.
The Competition - The competition in Executive Search is much fiercer. There are more competitors in the market, and ever more new search companies see the light of day. Today, also, many Companies have in-house Talent Acquisition Experts that compete with the Search Industry. Today, some Search Firms also search for lower lever people, even entry-level and advertise; some even have Job Boards. There exist Search Firms whose primary Search strategy is called LinkedIn, which is a quite different approach compared to senior executive management level search. This is no value judgement for or against neither approach. Different kinds of “businesses” demand different measures. The threshold for entering the Search Industry is nowadays lower due to the technology available, and therefore there also exist Search Firms that are not in everyone’s best interest. All this has made what Executive Search “means” more diffuse in the public eye.
Outsourcing – Outsourcing is popular, also in the Executive Search industry. Some have outsourced their research, others their marketing, business development actions, reference checks. Some even more. Many have done all this simultaneously. The more you outsource, the greater the risk that you one day, by mistake, outsource the very thing that once made you good. If I were a Client, I would always check which parts of the search process a Search Firm has outsourced. Worst scenario, the very expertise the Client is looking for may have been outsourced, which might mean you are now talking to the wrong person. Talking face to face with the person doing the job always feels better in my mind. That said, outsourcing is not by definition a bad thing or wrong. Rightly done, outsourcing may be an excellent business decision. Many Executive Search Firms have outsourced some activity and explicitly, therefore, can offer excellent high-quality service.
WHAT HAS NOT CHANGED?
The Business Principles – The underlying business principles of the Executive Search Industry and the framework that guided our thinking and our actions in the past are still the same. The business focus is to always act in the best interests of both the Client and the Candidate. The starting point and the only acceptable outcome for any Search Assignment must be success. In everything we do, we do our best, we maintain high quality, high ethical standards, and high confidentiality. We are always in compliance with the data privacy regulations, laws, local habits in the country, and the market where we operate.
The Business Focus - There must exist strategic clarity. There must be a clear understanding of who the Search Firm’s Clients and Candidates are. Are we in the middle-, executive management, CEO, board director-level business or perhaps in lower-level business? Are we generalists or functional or industry experts? The answers directly affect the Search Firm’s very business fundamentals, what kind of professional expertise and experience the search consultant/researcher must have for the job, how the job is done. No one is a top expert in everything. You must choose the business you operate in. Technology has not changed this aspect.
The Human Factor – Those who expect technology to do all their work for them may be up for a surprise. Despite all technology out there, the human factor is still as crucial as ever. Top search professionals must still have an in-depth knowledge of the business world and be able to advise the Client on business issues. Any Search Firm worth its salt still needs top-talented and highly skilled people. It is still the person behind the steering wheel that drives the car. No Formula 1 competition has ever been won by the car, regardless of how advanced it is. It is the driver (and his/her support team) that makes the difference. In Executive Search, it is the search consultant/researcher that make the difference.
Furthermore, in my mind, you can only develop into a top search professional and become an expert in human nature and the business world by interacting eye to eye with top-level business leaders. Meeting them, talking to them, listening to them, learning from them. This will not happen by, e.g., only looking at candidate lists produced by AI. I also believe the Client prefers a “human” counterpart – someone with outstanding business acumen. The Client is looking for a Strategic Business Partner and a good and trustworthy person to person relationship. A person with whom he can confidentially spar both his/her business and private thoughts. The Search Consultant genuinely cares for the Client; technology seldom does.
Confidentiality - When I started my career, Executive Search was almost exclusively used to recruit middle or executive level management, CEO’s, and board directors, with emphasis on senior executive management. The Search process was always done in complete secrecy. For Top End Executive Search Firms specialising in senior executive management Executive Search, this is, also nowadays standard practice.
These were just some reflections that came into my mind. There is more, but it is only so much you can talk about in an short article. If you want to know more, just read my book, and you will learn everything there is to know about Executive Search :-)